Supreme Court dismisses appeal of interconnector planning approval

Issues included whether An Bord Pleanála was ‘competent authority’

The interconnector comprises an overhead line linking an existing substation in Co Meath with a planned substation in Co Tyrone. Photograph: iStock

The interconnector comprises an overhead line linking an existing substation in Co Meath with a planned substation in Co Tyrone. Photograph: iStock

 

A challenge to An Bord Pleanála’s decision to approve plans for a 138km north-south electricity interconnector to be built by Eirgrid has been dismissed by the Supreme Court.

The appeal was brought by North East Pylon Pressure Campaign Ltd and a local landowner, Maura Sheehy, following the High Court’s rejection of their challenge to the board’s permission in 2017.

The project comprises a 400kV overhead line circuit linking an existing substation in Woodland, Co Meath, with a planned substation in Turleenan, Co Tyrone. It is planned to provide a second high-capacity all-Ireland interconnector alongside the existing 275kV double circuit overhead line between Co Louth and Co Armagh.

In agreeing to hear an appeal over the High Court decision, the Supreme Court said the case raised issues of public importance. Those included whether An Bord Pleanála was lawfully designated by the State as a “competent authority” under the 2013 Project of Common Interest EU regulation, and whether its functions in that role created a conflict in respect of its role in approving the proposed development.

The State is required under the regulation to designate “one national competent authority” to be responsible for facilitating and co-ordinating the permit-granting process for major projects of common interest. The regulation obliges a project promoter to facilitate public participation and report to the competent authority on the results of that.

All five judges agreed, for the reasons set out in a judgment of Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan, the appeal should be dismissed.

‘National scandal’

Responding to the decision, Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín said the interconnector was “a national scandal in slow motion”.

“It’s estimated that there is a €30 million cost to the State for every year that the infrastructure is not built. It is now over 10 years old which means that the delay has cost the State €300 million. The delay is a result of the Government’s pig headed determination to overground the project against the wishes of the people of the five counties that it will carve up.”

The Government was seeking to construct 409 pylons, up to 51 metres high, carrying 400,000 volts through Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, Armagh and Tyrone, the Aontú leader added.

“There are significant fears with regards threats to health especially threats of cancers and childhood leukaemia. There are fears with regards damage to value of homes, farms and business. The tourism, agriculture, the blood stock industry are all extremely alarmed.”

The technology was becoming out of date, he said. “Indeed new underground lines with similar distances are being built between Germany and Belgium within budget.”

Electricity Association of Ireland chief executive Dara Lynott said it was “great news for businesses and consumers across the island of Ireland. Enhancing our north-south interconnector capacity will facilitate growth in renewable energy generation and bring greater security and resilience of electricity supply for the benefit of all customers.”

Low-carbon environment

It would also play a key role in decarbonising electricity in the most cost-effective way. “It is crucial in helping the island of Ireland deliver a low-carbon economy by 2050 and maximising the efficient development of renewable generation.

“Approximately 70 per cent of electricity demand on the island lies east of a line from Cork to Belfast. This interconnector will provide the backbone for this corridor, and will increase our price competitiveness and our ability to attract foreign direct investment while delivering reduced costs for customers,” he said.

McCann FitzGerald head of environment and panning Brendan Slattery said the State and promoters of the other “projects of common interest” – namely, the proposed Greenlink interconnector (between Ireland and Wales) and the Celtic interconnector to France and the Shannon LNG projects – “can be relieved to see the first of their kind withstand challenge”.

The consent for the part in Northern Ireland was quashed last week when a court ruled that only a government minister could grant the consent, but there was currently none in office.